TBR Challenge – The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

Genre: Science Fiction

Narrative Style: A series of interlinked short stories that show the human journey from arriving on Mars through settling there to leaving again. 

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1950

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Through a series of interlinked stories, Bradbury explores the human relationship with Mars. Beginning with invasions – and Martian attempts to thwart them – Bradbury’s stories look at colonialism, human nature, loneliness and war.

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

Time on shelf: This has been on my kindle for about two years. The last Bradbury short story collection I read was a bit hit and miss so I avoided this one for a bit.

This was, for the most part, very enjoyable. I’m not a massive fan of short story collections as I usually find some don’t quite hit the mark but the narrative links running through the stories helped the whole thing to hang together.

It is always a bit weird reading science fiction from a long time ago. (So long ago, in fact, that the stories are set in the early 2000s. It is weird to think that Bradbury’s distant future has already faded into the past.) Even when Bradbury was imagining amazing future technology, he was hampered by the knowledge of his age and things sometimes felt a little quaint.

However, the main point of Bradbury’s fiction is not to write a perfect version of future technology but to look at the way human nature will be shaped by technological developments.  So he looks at the way that humans would behave when they arrive on Mars – how they immediately turn it into another version of earth, trying to remove all Martian traces and not caring how much they ruin the planet (And the Moon Still Be as Bright). He looks at relationships between Martians and humans – although most of the Martians have been killed off by chicken pox. In the story The Fire Balloons, priests are sent on a missionary mission to Mars and Bradbury discusses the idea of what sin might mean on a foreign planet.

Some of my favourite stories were early in the collection and revolved around failed expeditions. In The Earth Men, the newly arrived spacemen are taken for mad men and placed in an insane asylum. Due to the Martians telepathy they can see others’ hallucinations and so all assume that the Earth men are merely mad. Telepathy also figures in The Third Expedition. When the crew arrives, everything resembles their hometowns along with long dead relatives and they come to believe that Mars is really heaven. However, nothing is what it seems as the Martians have used telepathy to lure them into a false sense of security.

The final two stories are both poignant. There Will Come Soft Rains shows the way an automated house will continue running even after nuclear war has destroyed civilisation. Finally, a family escapes the war on Earth back up to Mars. Hoping to repopulate the planet now that Earth is ruined, a number of people have hidden rockets until they could use them to escape. They burn all documents they have brought with them and relate to their identity on Earth including a map of Earth. In the end, having promised his sons the possibility of seeing Martians, he shows them their reflections in a river.

As with the best science fiction, the themes are still relevant to our modern society especially as the race to get to Mars is underway. The technology may seem a little hokey but the ideas are still important.

 

 

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TBR Challenge 2019 – The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht

Genre: Magic Realism, War

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Natalia’s country is still recovering from many years of war. She is travelling to a neighbouring country to deliver medicine to an orphanage when she learns that her beloved grandfather has died. She recounts the stories that he has told her about the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man and tries to make sense of the future, both for herself and her country. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: Inherited from a relative in 2014.

I didn’t really know anything about this book – where it was set, what it was about but I liked the premise of ‘a girl who loved tigers so much she almost became one herself’ and it is a while since I have read any magic realism so I thought I’d give it a go.

This book is set in an unnamed Balkan country, an area that I must admit I know little about. Of course, I can remember the wars of the 1990s from the news but it was a long time ago and I was a lot younger at the time. So now that is yet another thing to go on my long list of things to find out more about.

The country has been devastated by the war but is now starting to try to recover. Natalia and her friend Zora are doing their bit by delivering medicine to an orphanage across the border. Near the start of this journey, Natalia discovers that her grandfather has died. She begins to tell the stories that he told her about the escaped tiger, the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man.

I enjoyed the mix of myth and reality in these tales and I enjoyed fitting the details of the story together. Obreht’s writing is at its best, I think, when telling these mystical tales of death. I particularly liked the story of Darisa the Bear and how he became so good at hunting. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what the overall point of the stories was. They seemed disjointed and removed from the modern day story. I don’t think Obreht quite managed to pull the whole thing together.

This is a novel about death and the rites that go with it, both on a personal and universal scale. Natalia is recovering from her Grandfather’s death as her country recovers from war. As such it is not an easy read and is dour in places. However, there are moments of beauty in amongst the grit.

TBR Challenge 2019 – Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

 

Genre: Classics, satire

Narrative style: third person narrative

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1928

Format: paperback

Synopsis: When Paul Pennyfeather is expelled from Oxford for indecent behaviour, his life spirals downwards. He begins his new life at a boys school and ends it in jail. Non of it is Paul’s fault. Events happen to him as he wanders through his life. Paul is an innocent abroad and Waugh uses his journey as an opportunity to satirise the 1920s society. 

Reading challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on shelf: I inherited this book in 2014 when my husband’s aunt died. 

This was an entertaining read. It was quite different from the only other Waugh I have read – Brideshead Revisited – but was very amusing nonetheless. Paul Pennyfeather is a useful character, wandering oblivious through Waugh’s satirical landscape. He has little will of his own, making nothing happen and, it seems, never truly understanding what is happening to him.

The novel is littered with eccentric characters such as Prendy an ex-vicar plagued by religious doubts or Captain Grimes who is always in the soup. Paul’s first port of call after being sent down from Oxford (after accidentally wandering into the drunken exploits of the Bollinger Club) is a Welsh public school. Here he meets Prendy and Grimes as well as Solomon Philbrick who has told at least three different stories of how he came to be at the school and is one the run from the police.

When Paul falls in love with the mother of one of his charges, his life really starts to take off. Margot Beste-Chestwynde agrees to marry him and immediately sends him off to deliver some women to South America. Paul, of course, has no idea that Margot’s money comes from prostitution and is incredibly surprised when he is arrested on the morning of his wedding for human trafficking.

The novel is very amusing and cleverly mocking of the mores of the time without ever explicitly saying anything. Paul eventually ends up exactly where he started, back at Oxford where nobody recognises him and his life returns to some sort of normality. There is no sense of character development or lessons learned – this is not a bildungsroman. In fact, there is little emotional interest for the reader. Waugh’s satire is clever and funny but I couldn’t help wishing for more emotional depth.

TBR Challenge 2019 – Thank You For The Days – Mark Radcliffe

Genre: Autobiography / Memoir

Narrative Style: First person with each chapter describing a different day.

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Radcliffe picks a series of days that have had an effect on his life, some to do with his career, some family and some just for amusement value. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge 2019

Time on Shelf: Since publication in 2009. 

I’ve been a fan of Mark Radcliffe since listening to Mark and Lard on Radio 1. I loved their daft sense of humour, taste in music and their northernness. One of the most annoying things about starting to teach was that I no longer got to listen to them. When I was on school holidays, inevitably it was some one else in the studio as they were also on holiday. I must admit that I don’t get the chance to listen to the radio much these days but I still catch Radcliffe when I can.

Radcliffe is an excellent raconteur and each episode was well paced and well told. Each “day” covered so much more than the event of its title and sometimes it seemed that he would never get to the point but it always turned out that the information had been important after all. There were amusing tales such as Mark and Lard drunk at An Evening with Kylie, various shenanigans with The Family Mahone and the annual radio one photograph. Radcliffe is quite self-deprecating and is quite willing to laugh at himself which made for a pleasant read.

More serious ground was covered in the chapter about John Peel’s death which reminded me how much I missed listening to his show but for the most part this is an upbeat read full of Northern humour and warmth. It almost felt like sitting down in the pub with Radcliffe and having a chinwag. It was very easy to read and easy to warm to him.

My only criticism is that you don’t really get that close to Radcliffe in any emotional way. At one stage he talks about how celebrities have personas that they put on and Radcliffe’s would seem to be humorous Northerner. Nothing really wrong with that as long as you realise that you would not be getting beyond that outer layer.

TBR Challenge 2019 – The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Genre: Horror

Narrative Style: Various first person narratives

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1897

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: The story starts when down on his luck Robert Holt breaks into a seemingly deserted house. He encounters an androgynous creature who is able to control humans with some strange hypnotism. He is then forced to visit the home of local politician Paul Lessingham, the focus of the creature’s animosity. The narrative becomes a chase with Lessingham and friends on the trail of the strange creature.

Reading challenges: TBR Challenge 2019

Time on shelf: This was an early kindle purchase – about 2014. I downloaded a lot of early horror, such as The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Werewolf of Paris. Not sure why this one didn’t get read then. 

This was disappointing. The first part of the story – told by Holt – is gripping and it isn’t obvious what will happen in the rest of the book. The creature is suitably sinister and the way it controls Holt is disturbing. However, as soon as the narrator changes, the story goes downhill.

The next narrator, scientist and inventor, Sidney Atherton is incredibly annoying, not to mention rather wordy. The narrative tension suffers because of the long winded style. Events are described that have little bearing on the story. His encounters with the creature are unsatisfying as are the romantic machinations between himself and Marjorie Lindon.

With every change of narrator, I lost a little more interest. The story meandered and the ending was disappointing and didn’t really resolve any of the mystery surrounding the creature and where it had come from.

There was also a troubling xenophobic aspect. The creature often took the form of an ‘Arab’ and was attributed all sorts of mysterious powers. It smacked of colonialism and the fear of the other. This would seem particularly troubling when you consider that the men could not decide if the creature was male or female – but suspected the latter. This only added to their disgust. This did not always make for comfortable reading.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most recent additions to TBR pile.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This weeks list is the ten most recent additions to my TBR list.

I’ve decided to list five actual books and five from my kindle. When I first bought the kindle, I tried to not let it happen – a TBR shelf. I only bought a book when I had finished a book. But that turned out to be unfeasible because it meant a bit of messing around before I could start a new book. Apart from anything, Amazon’s daily emails with potential bargain books soon saw to it that I had a lot of books waiting to be read. Of course, it doesn’t take up any physical space but still, there are books that have been waiting a long time to be read.

Five from my actual bookshelves – I’ve been buying a lot of modern classics lately so most of these are quite old. I’m particularly looking forward to I Robot as it has been on my meaning to buy / read list for a long time.

  1. I Robot – Isaac Asimov (1950)
  2. The Collector – John Fowles (1963)
  3. The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett (1930)
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman (2017)
  5. Choke – Chuck Palahnuik (2001)

Five from my kindle – I try not to spend a lot on kindle books – there isn’t much point when you can get such a lot for 99p. It means that I often buy things that I wouldn’t buy at full price. Paris Echo is probably the next read here. I’ve only ever read Birdsong so it would be interesting to read something else by Faulks.

  1. Testament of Youth – Vera Brittain (1933)
  2. Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks (2018)
  3. A House for Mr Biswas – V. S. Naipaul (1961)
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (1884)
  5. 20000 Leagues under the Sea – Jules Verne (1869)

Reading Challenge – The 2019 TBR Pile Challenge

Okay so I know I said that I might not do a challenge this year but I really like the TBR Pile Challenge and I haven’t done it for a couple of years. It is hosted by Roof Beam Reader and it challenges you to read 12 books that have been on your TBR pile for more than a year. So it is a good excuse to dig out some of those books you’ve been meaning to read for a while and make yourself read them. No categories to keep to  – just 12 books that are desperate to be read.

So here is my list. I really hope I can get through them all.

  1. Emmaline Pankhurst – Paula Bartley (2002)
  2. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950)
  3. The Plague – Albert Camus (1947)
  4. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith – Peter Carey (1994)
  5. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster (1908)
  6. The Virgin’s Lover – Philippa Gregory (2004)
  7. You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks – Nick Hasted (2010)
  8. The Beetle – Richard Marsh (1897) 
  9. The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht (2011) – Currently reading
  10. Thank  You For The Days – Mark Radcliffe (2009)
  11. Powder – Kevin Sampson (1999)
  12. Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh (1928) 

Extras:

  1. The Shipping News – Annie Proulx (1993)
  2. The Accidental – Ali Smith (2005)